Sunday, April 10, 2011

Home again


So, I am home now, safe and sound in KW, Canada.  I thought it might be appropriate to post one last entry to this blog, as it has been a few days since I have arrived back home.
I started way back in January in London and it has been a long time away, but now that I am home it is like I haven’t missed a beat.  Of course, the store looks different and I have to figure out how to eat again, but maybe someone will take me out for Indian food soon…
typical thali i would have had daily

Jet lag hit badly my second day back.  I was dizzy and actually nauseous and barely able to think.  Someone described it like being hung over, and though it has been a long time, I think that is probably appropriate.  I think I am experiencing a bit of reverse culture shock.  My first indication is that I actually had to ask on Thursday if it was a holiday of some kind.  I really couldn’t figure out where all the people had gone.  It felt like I was in a ghost town – downright eerie.  Only when my father suggested that I had simply come from a more populated place did I recognize that to be true.  Now, two days later, I actually still have this sense that there has been some kind of secret mass exodus from this place – there is nobody anywhere!  Saturday morning I woke up and was thoroughly disoriented for well over a minute.  Now, I know we all know what it is like to wake up and be like this for a quick moment, but for me this actually dragged on a long while.  “Where am I?  Which hotel am I in, in which city?  What am I supposed to be doing today?”  I was utterly confused and when I realized I was back in Canada it felt quite odd.  Just, odd.   
I have not fully settled back into my skin here.  In India I think the food I most missed having was good granola so I have since had my fill.  And Theresa made me a raw burger meal for my first night back that was almost ecstatic - but last night I broke down and made white rice, spicy veggies and plain purple onion and ate it with my hands.  Just trying to ease the transition. 

            Before I left I had asked people to place bets on whether I would gain or lose weight during the trip.  As I personally suspected, I went against the norm and gained weight – 8.5 lbs in fact!  Wow, eh?  And yes, that was the same scale I used both times.  Well, all that rice and not running will do that, I guess.  But I bet without any effort at all it will come back down a bit within  a week or so.  I’m not pushing it.  I did go for a short run on Friday – just around the park and back (which was a fraction of my previous running circuit) – and I was amazed that Saturday I woke up with wicked sore muscles.  Yikes. 
            To answer the question of whether my connection to India has been sated or seeded, it is clearly the latter.  Will I go back?  I don’t see how it could be possible that I not go back.  I see time as less of an arrow as a spire, and I believe that our past and future trickle from both directions, pressing us into every moment.  My passion for India is simply more rooted now, part of my cells instead of just my mind and soul.  There is much about the place that I truly disliked.  If I made a list, in fact, there would probably be more on my dislike column than the other.  But the trump is an inexplicable love for the place. 
People have been asking if my trip met my expectations.  Well, after all my previous reading about India, I really kept my expectations in check before going.  I knew enough to expect nothing but craziness but to allow the beauty to find its way through.  I think that I was less frustrated than most travelers, and also more inclined to appreciate small things.  I was more impressed by a fantastic 10 rupee meal from a street vendor than I was with the Taj Mahal.  I had ups and downs, and I really feel that I had a thorough experience of what India has to offer.  That is not to say that I did or saw everything, which is of course not possible.  But I believe that I experienced a solid cross-section of the sub-continent and all its cultures, flavours, peoples and places.  And I know that I don’t need to do that again.  If and when I go back (in’shallah!) I will be well pleased to arrive quickly at a peaceful destination – some ashram or community – and settle there for a good month or more.  That is, at least, what I would choose to do at my present perspective.   
            But that does not mean that I would change anything about this last trip.  Certainly, I had a miserable time with certain parts of it.  And no, I am not talking about the days when I was sick, because those were important and I am glad to have had the experience.   I mean the damp cold of Kashmir (without boots on cement floors) the ferocity of the touts in Varanasi, the inevitable prison tortures of group travel, the choking blocks of black air from engines burning unregulated diesel fuel thinned out with cheap kerosene – these things I could do without.  Or could I?  At this point, I simply know how to do things differently should there be another time around.  
the ubiquitous green and yellow auto-rickshaw
 
            On the whole, the trip was less of a personal revelation than many persons have during their journeys to India.  Perhaps I did not need India for that, but for other reasons.   I had some important moments of clarity and depth which were bold enough to make a lasting impression early on in my stay.  The Ramanasraman was, in my first week or so, the certain high point of my journey.  Kashmir was music of another song – sadder, deeper, more heart than head – but also touching and teaching in a grand and unexpected way.   Otherwise, for much of the trip I was merely a student, a tourist, a traveler, and I was just trying to soak up the moment every day, knowing that the next day I would be gone and never be back. 
By the end I was thoroughly exhausted, and that is even more clear now that I am home and I see that I have nothing at all in reserve.  My last weeks were caffeine-fueled and having experienced adrenal fatigue in the past, I can see that this is where I am at right now as well.  But I know what to do about that, and I know that I will recuperate in time.  Kashmir hit me with a left hook, too, and I have to figure out in myself what I am going to do with that connection and with the reality that I cannot ignore.  I truly hope that any and all of you will consider helping me do some small or large thing in the future for this land, whenever I figure out what that might be.  Prayer, it should be noted, is not without value in this regard.  Just 2 days ago a militant leader was killed by a small bomb in Srinagar, as he was entering his mosque for afternoon prayers.  The whole city has gone on strike – no buses are running and shops in many areas are closed en masse - and there are major safety concerns in some areas.  So in one way, I left at a very good time.  However, I pray for Christine and her family, and for all the lovely Kashmiri’s who only want peace to their beloved land which they will not abandon.  There are, as Justine reminds me, many there who are simply and deliberately acting to prevent peace.   When I was there, I would often ask people about what can be done about the whole situation in Kashmir.  Some think money will help, some think that social programs or education or political change is the answer.  Clearly, it is going to take time – and all of the above.
Monument under construction at the Dalai lama's temple

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In India, I started in the south at the Ramanasraman, and ended in Kashmir.  So in a way, I started in heaven and ended in paradise.  Not too bad, really.  I brought back a few books about India, and though I do not rush to read them now, I am sure they will not be the last to add to this shelf.   I also brought back clothes, which fit me well, and which I will continue to wear. 
Now, I have the chore if integrating this experience with the one I have here in Canada, and of not letting things like the price of tea or the inevitable winter bring me down. 

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I hope some of you enjoyed this blog and learned a little bit from it.  I will be adding photos and videos to past entries at some point, but mostly I hope to share all this with most of you in person.  My love and light to you all.  


Namasté
Sat Shri Akal
Tashi Delek
Khuda hafiz

sunset from Arunachala

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Last days of Kashmir


Kashmiri woman with characteristic profile, earrings and shawl.
I am in the airport, waiting for my flight out of India. I am leaving India, and my feelings are mixed.  I am exhausted, but I can tell you one thing:  British Airways just became my favourite company.  When I finally arrive home, I will have been in transit from Srinagar to Toronto for almost 36 hours.  Yikes. 

Yesterday (what? Yesterday? Man, it was a long time ago) it seemed like it was trying to be a nice day in Srinagar.  I was cold and grumpy though, and I decided that the only thing I needed was to go for a very long brisk walk, to get blood pumping so I could have a sense of both my feet and my brain again. 

            From Dagapora I walked all the way to Soara bazaar, and I was no longer cold.  I bought ‘biscuits’ (cookies) on the way from a grocer who decided that I looked like a really good person and therefore, should not pay for them.  (I insisted.) Found channa and samosa at a really good street vendor nestled in the bazaar, and I was surprised when the guy took my samosa and mashed it all up into pieces with his bare hand before pouring the channa on top.  It was excellent. 
Great lunch
 
            Walking back, it started to rain.  I waited under cover, but it was not letting up.  So I trucked on. By the time I was passing the grocery store I had entered on my way, the grocer saw me cold and ragged and beckoned me into his shop for hot drinks.  Rizwan was the nicest guy you could imagine.  He sat me down, called his sister to bring coffee over (nobody drinks coffee in Srinagar, but he offered) and grabbed some chocolate cookies from the rack and wanted me to eat the whole pack. 
Rizwan and his store door
 He spoke virtually no English, but he managed to say something about his brother coming with a car.  I thought that he was telling me his brother would drive me home.  But when he came we just talked for a bit and I realized I was getting an umbrella instead.  By the time I realized that, I was very late for my connecting with Christine.  I walked as fast as I could in the muck, but somehow took a wrong turn.  Again, a very friendly guy took me out his way and showed me a shortcut back to where I wanted to go, just in time for Christine to pick me up on the dirt road on her way, and all was well. 
Dr. Fauzia's family - keeping me warm

            We went to finally get the sweater for my aunt from the store above K. Salama and then drove Dr. Fausia home.   There, we were invited in for tea and met her wonderful family.  Knowing I was wet and cold they piled wool blankets on me and gave me a piping fresh kangri, bottomless tea, and coconut biscuits that I could not refuse.  At this point, I was actually hoping for some Kashmiri folk to treat me very badly and be very rude – everyone was just so darn wonderful everywhere I went that it was not helping me prepare to leave the next day.  
 
Inayat
           
Azur - "I play Chess"

Christine
Manzur and a woman helping at the day clinic

Dr.'s assistant
Woman shopping at Dagra bazaar
    This morning was busy.  Manzur and I left early to beat traffic and go to Blooming Dale so I could settle my account there and pick up my bag.  At one point, we were flagged down by military men to stop and pick them up.  6 of them piled in the back of the van.  But the moment we started to drive again, the back tire burst.  It was hilarious.  Kinda.  So they got out and flagged another vehicle, while Manzur and I changed the tire.  We didn't break a record, but did it in time that Ralphie would have been proud of.  At Blooming Dale, Mir saw me wearing my loaner pheran and,  beaming, gave me a big hug and (I think) asked me to come back soon.  He is the sweetest guy.  
Dagnamit, Blow out!
 

            After a stressful trip to the airport via the store to exchange a wrong sized item given to me the day before, I went through the most incredible and thorough security screening I have ever seen.   I am not criticizing, but giving my approval.  So much of the time we find security checks everwhere – particularly in India - that you could sneak an elephant through – but not in Srinagar.  It actually starts a full kilometre from the airport itself, and the they make you get out of your car (which they check) and then put all your stuff through a baggage scanner.  Then you drive the rest of the way to the airport to be dropped off.  Inside, there is another luggage scan and pat-down.  Then you take your luggage to be checked.  After, you wait in line for another security check and pat-down, and another carry-on scan.  After that, they take your carry-on luggage, dump it out on a table, and go through the whole thing.  (wow!)  Next, you are in the gate area, and you have to go out and identify your checked luggage before they put it into the aircraft.  I can tell you that I felt very safe on the IndiaGo Airlines plane that took me the hour and a half to Delhi. 
Srinagar airport
           
 In the Srinagar airport I found that Gulshan Books had just opened up a stall, literally the day before.  The wonderful  Saheem who had served me at their store in Lal Chowk was there, and of course remembered my name and greeted me warmly.  He inexplicably had a copy of a book I had been looking for but that they did not have at their larger home store.  It was Holger Kersten’s Jesus Lived in India.  It was all over bookstores in southern India, but I did not want to lug it around with me.  It had loads about Kashmir, of course.  I gobbled up the book during my long hours of flying and waiting in the airport.  I like his introduction to Kashmir on page 34:

            “Kashmir is sometimes called the Switzerland of India because of its fertile valleys and their large, smooth lakes and clear rivers, surrounded by green wooded mountains, lying at the foot of the ‘roof of the world’.  This paradise has attracted people from far-off  regions ever since ancient times, and especially during the Golden Age of Kashmir, when pilgrims came to the green valleys from all over he world in order to study the teachings of Gautama Buddha at the feet of the celebrated scholars of Kashmir. (…)  Despite its idyllic location, Srinagar is a noisy and turbulent city, humming with commercial activity.  The city is spread between and over several lakes, on the left bank of the large Lake Dal, and is thus interlaced by a number of waterways that have given Srinagar the atmosphere of a Venice of the East.  A considerable proportion of the population live in the houseboats that lie in great humbers on the canals of the old town, or moored to the banks of the lakes and beside the ‘floating gardens’.” 


Entrance to Delhi airport
            In Delhi, I broke a personal record for early arrival at an airport.  I arrived from Sinagar at 4:30 and took a free bus to terminal 3 to await my flight at 8:15… am the next morning.  Yes, I could have found a hotel etc., but I decided I didn’t want to bother with the cost and hassle.  So, I hung out in the airport for a few hours.  And let me tell you that the new terminal of Indira Gandhi airport is new, gorgeous, and is cleaned with a maintenance schedule that rivals the Taj Hotel.  I watched scores of drone workers sweep sparkling floors just done a few minutes ago, and I watched in amazement as one guy swept and dusted the back of an outside planter box that only a drunk person could possibly stumble through the pots to notice while on their back.  At any rate, it was certainly clean enough to sleep on the floor, if not eat off it.
yeah, I'm cool - my bag is made by Reebok AND Nike...

At this point, I am reflecting on my trip.  I am not going to say anything dramatic like, “I can’t believe it is over.” or something like that.  It has been a long journey, beautiful but at times very trying, and I am really glad to be going home.  That is important, since the appreciation of coming back to Canada was, after all, part of the reason for the trip. 
            I learned a lot during this trip, of course.  Obviously, I learned about traveling, about traveling in India, about the places and people and religions – but all that is a given.  I learned about Rob too, about the reality of my solitude, about the way other people draw me out in my worst ways sometimes, but that when I really want company, the right people can enhance my experience of Self and Other.  I learned that I don’t like to travel very much.   That I indeed love India, but also utterly despise much of it. 
            Oh, this is futile. I cannot write about what I learned on this trip.  All of it will be a part of me in every moment going forward.  Has India changed me?  Of course.  In what ways?  Well, maybe after a little while, you can tell me. 
"Kashmir"

            Kashmir touched me in a surprising way.  I expected to enjoy the landscape, but I did not expect to fall in love with its people.  In many places in India I found warm people, but in Kashmir it was altogether different.  Perhaps exactly because they have been through such hardship, their welcoming embrace and hospitality is so deep and touching.  It just puts us cold Canadians to shame, really.  It was hard to feel comfortable with, but I was aware that I could allow myself to just step into another’s home and be served as a guest, and loved as a temporary family-member.  We sure as heck don’t do that in Canada.  
Workers with Kangri, Pherans, Samovar waiting at the side of the road
            Everywhere I went, I heard and read again and again about Kashmir being desperate for the tourists that used to flock to the region before it got progressively bad publicity.  The businesses are suffering tremendously, and more than that, we as a planet are losing some of the artisans that have for generations made handicrafts coveted the world over.  But the fact is that people aren’t coming, and are not importing as much either, and the sons of the masters are choosing to not to practice their father’s art.  I cannot convey with enough emphasis how much I wish I could get you all to feel the same desire to support this region in any way possible, whether it be by travel, by donation, by purchasing handicrafts from the safety of your home, or also and just as importantly by becoming less ignorant of this magnificent place, and telling others about it.  Just like many Indians think Canada is a state of the US, many North Americans don’t have a clue as to where or what Kashmir is, and this is, I feel, a great tragedy in itself.  

            In a way, I am glad that I am out of Kashmir and I don’t have to go back – I have done what I wanted to do.  On the other hand, I made such profound connections there, on many levels – how can I not go back?   Right now, I feel like I just want to push it out of my mind, or else it will tear me up.  I wish that you could all experience the place, and I hope that at least some of you will understand from my writing that it is a good, safe place to travel to – it will almost certainly open your mind and your heart.   

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Waria Asul (very good)


in front of Darga mosque.  (i totally love the thrown pheran look!)

I think I mentioned that I am not fond of rain, right? People who know me know that I am not good with cold, and the rain here has been cold. As soon as the moist mountain air drops in, you can feel the temperature drop. It can change on a dime here. This morning, it was sunny and nice. Christine said, “it is a beautiful day.” I replied, “Well, it is right now.” Sure enough, you drink some tea and suddenly it is raining again. Bah!
Their house

The last two days have been like that. I am having a bit of a hard time having cold feet and hands for most of the day – it is hard for me to stay in my body and enjoy living while and I am cold like that, and staying here I have not been completely in charge of my time. I can’t just take a hot shower whenever, nor can I hide in bed or something. Otherwise, I have been having a really interesting experience of rural Kashmir. Living in this home and often dining with the full family down the street has been amazing.

School - the small children in the upstairs of the house

Yesterday we did very little, though we did drive in to Lal Chowk to try to finish my epic adventure of “Viiu’s sweater”. Yeah – ask me about it if you want a long story. It did not end yesterday, but it needs to tomorrow. (I know that she will not read this until much after I have seen her – so it is safe to write about it. She does not have or use a computer so believe it or not my mom is printing up this blog in chunks to mail to her so she can read it. Isn’t that against some kind of law or something?)
women at a village house

house with flower of life design

In the afternoon I took a long walk during a particularly sunny break, and it was divine. In the evening we watched some of the tail end of the cricket world-cup final before dinner. It was fun sitting up in this cold room where the TV got a special power supply from down the road at an uncle’s place, so that during a power outage we could still watch. Manzur gets the remote – he is the eldest son and the head man around here. 12 others sat around in matching pherans. Yeah, I got a loaner too. We watched cricket and flipped to a bollywood movie (Pardes with Shah Ruqh Khan) whose climax was filmed largely at Fatepur-Sikri, which was kinda cool and totally hilarious. After dinner, none of the guys wanted to watch the end of the game. They were nervous because India had been batting quite well, and they did not want to have to watch them win. They were cheering for Sri Lanka simply because they cheer against India (reminding me of the way I cheer for whoever is playing against Manchester United). I wanted to watch the end, but I would have to wait until late in the morning when I spoke to Manzur’s brother and he confirmed that India had won in the end. I never got the score, but everyone talked about how the Indian team captain was given as a reward a crore rupees (million), a helicopter, and a hotel. Must be nice.

The Indian President apparently told the nation that he would lower gas prices if India won, but that did not happen today. In the morning Christine and Manzur held a hospital ‘camp’ (read: walk in clinic) in the next town over. Nobody was showing up and they couldn’t figure out why. Then they realized that the man they had relied on to announce the date probably did not do so on purpose. He runs another pharmacy shop nearby and they figure he did not want to lose any possible business that we may have done by selling some prescriptions. They though he was trying to help when he gave them this space to work from, but now they figure he was just getting them out of his area. And this, folks, just shows the unfortunate side of things here. You try to help and you can get thwarted by the strangest things – not the least of which is pure greed. In the afternoon Manzur decided he was going to take a few guys and drive us all out to Manasbal lake, a picturesque lake situated at the bottom of a craggy mounting, just short of an hour away. I was a bit cranky, having been stuffed with rice and nadroo (lotus root curry) past healthy limits by kind aunts at lunch. However, the lake the mountain were beautiful.

Manasbal lake

Note the Tim Horton's shirt on Manzur's buddy.  I don't know where he got it from, but he had no idea what it was, and I was utterly unable to communicate it to him, beyond that it was Canadian.  



Sign said "Ancient Temple".  (wikipedia site for Manasbal Lake has info)

 
It was frigid wind coming off the lake though, and I would have given a hefty amount of money for even the worst hot coffee. It was spitting as we strolled, and it started pouring almost as soon as we piled back into the Sumo for another bone jarring bounce home. I don’t know how but I fell asleep despite the Kashmiri sufi music (click link to listen) Manzur has playing at every moment the speakers work.  Did I mention that he is a sufi?
After instant coffee back at home (seriously, it was amazingly good) I was almost warm when we took off again. Dr. Fawzia wanted me to meet her very spiritual brother, so off we went. However, the one road back to Srinagar was blocked with a bit of a traffic jam. Trucks were turned off and empty. It did not look promising. It turns out somebody up the line at one of the narrow lanes that fits only one vehicle, got stuck. It is a bad hill, for sure. After a half-hour most of the people we had been driving into town gave up and jumped out into the mud and rain with their sandals to walk home. I stretched out and fell asleep. I thought it was pretty clear we were not going to go anywhere, and I said so about 3 minutes in and then held my peace. After an hour we finally turned around. Oh, did you know that they don’t have heat in Indian cars? Yes. Really. Not even an option on most of the Suzuki/Maruti’s and Hyundai’s here. I was frozen.
view from the village during a walk

We went to the family home and I de-thawed my feet on a kangri as we sat and watched children play before dinner. Tomorrow is my last full day here.

Wow. I can’t believe I am already at my last full day in Kashmir – my 2nd last full day in India. Traveling is exhausting. But wonderful, too. I can see now that virtually every thing that I had been told about Kashmir was wrong, and the parts that were right I was not able to comprehend until being here myself. This is a place so utterly foreign that it is a good thing I did not try to start my journey here instead of Chennai – I think it may have been much more difficult.

I must say that I have certainly had quite the tour of India’s major religions though. Well, I have had quite the tour of India. Sure, I did not go everywhere. Not by a long shot. But I do feel like I have done something that makes my experiences in what India is, and what she has to offer. I realized that it would be wrong for me to say that I have spent 2 months traveling India. I will have to say that I have traveled to India and Kashmir, for this is – right, I now see – they way both Kashmiri’s and Indians talk of these two places. And I wanted an experience of Kashmir too, which I got for sure. Yes, I did not visit some of the major tourist spots, but I have sat in some homes and shared tea glasses with the locals in a way that I doubt many of the already few Western tourists choose to. All of that is pretty special.

me, manzur and family eating dinner

But today I have mostly been grumpy and cold, and I am praying for the sun tomorrow. If it is raining when I wake up, I tell Christine, then she is simply to bring me a carafe of hot tea – I am staying in bed.

 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Dagapora



Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face,
Stars to fill my dreams.
I am a traveller of all time and space,
To be where I have been.

To sit with elders of a gentle race,
The world has seldom seen.
They talk of days for which they sit and wait,
When all will be revealed.

Talk and song from tongues of lilting grace,
Whose sounds caress my ear.
Not a word I heard could I relate,
The story was quite clear.

...Trying to find where I've been...

                     Kashmir, lyrics by Robert Plant (nod to Randy as well)

eagles.  everywhere.  really.
Thursday, the morning after the cricket match: I pack up my things and after another breakfast at my favourite hole-in-the-wall, I take 2 buses to get to Bhagat Chowk, where I walk the rest of the way to the Lifeline clinic. Expecting to be of some service for the day, I actually find very little for me to do. The senior and junior listeners are there (those training to be counsellors at the clinic) essentially to pick up their paycheques and leave. Can you imagine having to travel across town to wait for an hour just to get paid? I stick around with Dr. Arif and he asks me to see patients with him and it is incredibly interesting. After tea, Manzur comes to pick me up and we pick up my pack at Blooming Dale and head out into the clean air of the country. I don’t know how it is possible, but in some of the garden areas of Srinagar, when the air is calm, I swear that the spring blossoms make the air smell of candy.

Out near Dagapora, the mustard is in full bloom and it adds a gorgeous yellow welcome mat to the grey of the villages. I have decided to stay with Christine, Manzur and their son Tawseef for one or two nights – they have invited me to stay longer but we’ll see. I have thoroughly explored as much of the city asI want, and I look forward to the slower pace of the country. Plus, it is a rare chance to experience authentic life in a Kashmiri village. Sure, I could spend my money going to Gulmarg (the number one skiing resort in all of India and a prime tourist spot. No one can believe that I am not dashing off to see it. Indians flock there to see snow for the first time. “Believe me, I have seen snow before!”) but I am done with being a tourist.

vegetable vendor in shikara, dal lake
 The first afternoon we hang about, drink namkeen chai (the salt tea) with the family and eventually drive in to pick up some more family. Back in the village the power goes out (it is scheduled black outs every day here) and though they cook without electricity, we wait a long few hours in the dark, talking and dozing until at 9pm the power comes back on again and we have a wonderful dinner – more so because I was starving. But the village cooking, though Kashmiri, is spicier than other places, and it is wonderful. I don’t eat the meat of course, but the paneer and the haak (kashmiri bok choy-type thing) that the sister brought from up north, is amazing. We eat it with the rice they have grown themselves, and I think this is pretty darn neat. I am content, sitting dressed in Manzur’s pheran and packing a kangri pot underneath to keep me toasty. Did I describe the kangri? It is a ceramic clay pot inside a wicker basket that they fill with coals and tuck inside their pherans to keep warm.

kangri prep on dal lake
These people are pretty good at staying warm without having internally heated homes, but generally I think that they are made of an entirely different material than my own physical body. How else can anybody wear bare feet and sandals in the snow and cold rain? It is 1 degree C today and I am wearing everything I have to stay warm. The hot food, pheran, kangri and salt tea all help.  
video

Today I am dragging my feet. I slept Ok under approximately 20 kg of thick quilts, but I think because of my poor diet the day before, I have no oomph. It will take some amount of caffeine to keep me going, and I get to work on that as if it were serious business. Frankly, the last few days I have not been myself, as they say. I feel OK – but I am not thinking the same ways as before. Something in me is tired on a whole other level. Or, maybe just different. I don’t know. After a delightful second breakfast with Manzur, he takes me into town so he can get some paperwork processed. His father just passed away a few months ago, and he is trying to get his government job. Apparently civil jobs have a tradition here of being passed on within a family, and Manzur is pretty sure he will get this, which would be a huge boon to his family, though he might have to travel every day. Already they are doing fairly well, as he ran a ready-made clothing story before, but most importantly, he married a well-to-do foreigner, so automatically people are generally very jealous. Because we are in the area, he takes me to the famous Darga (sp?) mosque on a side of town that I have not been to (Nigin). It is beautiful and it is a sunny day as we stroll the bazaar that surrounds it.

 





Back in the village, we lounge about. His job right now consists of filling out the odd paper and praying that he will get this job. Oh, and also mailing packets of Kashmiri shawls to Switzerland where Christine’s family and connection of extended friends manage to sell them so that the profits can come back here and fund the school and medical clinic they run. Anybody in Canada want to buy honestly priced, finely made kashmiri shawls and scarves? He will mail them to me when I get back if anyone wants, and I would love to help. I’ll bring home photos. We’ll see.
shepherd who wanted his photo taken

women who had collected wild mushrooms, plucking stems

Manzur and Tawseef

Otherwise, life here in the country is interesting, and interestingly slow. I haven’t seen a TV yet – though I hear that some people have them. Family is important in a way I could never fathom – they may live in separate homes but they gather for dinner, share funds, have their kids sleep together, and hang out with each other – drinking tea and doing nothing for hours on end. There is no way that I could handle so much doing of virtually nothing. Can you imagine just sitting around waiting for electricity for 3 hours? Or mastering the art of making coals red-hot so that you can use them in a pot under your robe so you can stay warm? I don’t know how Christine has made the transition. But, her heart is huge and selfless and all she wants is to help this beautiful land of beautiful people. I can’t blame her for one second for abandoning our emotionally cold and self-centered culture for this. I know that I couldn’t do it, but I have been wondering ever since I got here – how could I possibly do something to help Kashmir? I believe hat this is one of the few places truly in dire need of international help that, once assisted, could be a place that would give back again to the world. It was once such a celebrated, abundant and talented land. Still its handicrafts and natural products are desired all over the world. I hope and pray that it may find peace and balance again some day, and then be a paradise again.

In’Shallah!